Asbestos is a silicate mineral that is composed of fiber-like particles. These particles are minuscule and are easily inhaled. The mineral is known for its durability, strength, and fire-resistant properties. During the 1900s, it was an integral component of construction materials, automotive parts, and military equipment. However, various health risks associated with asbestos exposure began to surface. It was not until 1989 that the use of asbestos was banned in several countries of the world. Even though the United States hasn’t imposed a complete ban on asbestos, the mining and use of asbestos is strictly regulated.
Risks associated with asbestos exposure
Exposure to asbestos poses serious health effects. People who used to work in mines, factories, and the automobile industry are more susceptible to asbestos poisoning. Health risks associated with asbestos are often misdiagnosed because it takes a few years, sometimes decades, for signs and symptoms to become apparent.
A few diseases that are caused by asbestos exposure include the following:
- Mesothelioma: Mesothelioma is a rare type of cancer caused by prolonged asbestos exposure. Asbestos microfibrils get stuck in the mesothelium of the lungs, heart, or abdomen and lead to the formation of cancer cells. People who are diagnosed with mesothelioma are often entitled to a legal settlement. Various online resources like Mesothelioma Hope can guide patients toward the best course of action after being diagnosed with this ailment.
- Lung cancer: Asbestos fibers, when inhaled, can trigger the formation of tumors in the lungs. Studies have shown that people exposed to asbestos fibers are more likely to develop lung cancer than others.
- Asbestosis: Asbestos fibers, when inhaled, cause scarring of the lungs, making them stiff and weak. This condition is known as asbestosis. Although it is not classified as a tumor, the condition is irreversible and only worsens over time. Treatment can control the disease and provide some comfort to patients.
- Pleural effusions: Asbestos fibers can cause damage to the pleural lining, causing fluids to build up between the lungs and the chest cavity. This can restrict breathing and cause pain. Pleural effusions are also a common symptom of mesothelioma, experienced by over 70% of pleural mesothelioma patients.
Reducing the risk of asbestos exposure
Here are 6 tips to reduce the risk of asbestos exposure:
Avoid going to or living near known asbestos mines
Areas near asbestos mines are highly contaminated with asbestos fibers. Since the fibers are light and small, they are easily dispersed in the air and water supply and can be inhaled or ingested. So avoid going to areas where asbestos mines are located. If you have no choice, be mindful of unpaved roads and paths while crossing. Driving or walking on unpaved roads can disperse asbestos fibers easily, making them more susceptible to inhalation.
- Be aware of asbestos-containing sources near you
Locate every place that is likely to be contaminated with asbestos. Whether it is in your home or your workplace, search for asbestos-containing products and make a conscious effort to avoid them. In buildings, asbestos is commonly found in the following areas:
- Pipes and furnace insulation
- Soundproofing installations
- Textured paint
- Patching compound used to fill holes and crevices in walls and ceilings
Asbestos is also commonly found in automobiles. It was extensively used in various parts of automobiles to make them heat and fire-resistant. These include:
- Car brakes
- Transmission parts
Educate yourself about how exposed you are to asbestos currently and take active steps to minimize your asbestos exposure.
- Avoid second-hand exposure
Second-hand asbestos exposure is common among women and children. While they are not directly exposed to asbestos, they are in regular contact with people who are. Such contact can transfer asbestos fibers to them, causing diseases.
You can take several steps to avoid exposing your family to asbestos. If one of your family members works in an area with known asbestos exposure, handle their clothing and belongings with care. Make sure to assign a specific area near your front door where everyone takes their shoes off before coming in. Avoid physical contact with people before they get a chance to change their clothes and shower. Small steps like these go a long way in avoiding second-hand asbestos exposure.
- Be careful while remodeling or demolishing your home
A house built in the 1900s is usually overdue for a remodel. However, planning to demolish or renovate such a home needs extensive planning and preparation. Old houses have a high percentage of asbestos used in construction materials. This mineral is mixed in the house’s foundation, insulations, tiles, and ceilings. Demolishing the structure without proper investigation can disperse asbestos fibers in the air and endanger people living in the house and neighborhood. Consult asbestos removal experts before demolishing any part of your house.
- Wear PPE
Handling asbestos is dangerous. People who handle asbestos regularly go through extensive training and are bound to follow certain SOPs to ensure their safety. If your job requires you to handle asbestos-containing products occasionally, ensure you are well-prepared. Personal protective equipment (PPE) while handling asbestos-containing sources includes the following:
- Respiratory protective equipment (EPE) to avoid inhaling asbestos fibers.
- Overalls that are resistant to asbestos fibers or easily washable
- Use a HEPA filter while cleaning up asbestos residues
High-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters in vacuums are designed to remove 99.97% of airborne particles as small as 0.3 microns. The size of asbestos fibers is typically between 0.1 to 10 microns. Vacuums with HEPA filters can clean up the majority of asbestos fibers.
Asbestos fibers are small and deadly and are also responsible for various health issues that cause irreversible damage to the human body. You can take a few preventive steps to minimize asbestos exposure to keep yourself and your family safe from asbestos-related risks. Follow the tips mentioned in this article to steer clear of mesothelioma, asbestosis, and other asbestos-related diseases.